New proposals issued by the government aim to radically change the statutory framework for parental leave to raise a newborn. Traditionally the position is:
- Men have a statutory 2 week right to paternity leave; and
- Women can take up to a year off, with 39 weeks of that being paid at the statutory rate.
The current government has identified this system as antiquated, unfair and detrimental to the labour market.
The new laws still provide for 52 weeks of maternity leave, however, after the woman’s initial recovery period, the parents are then entitled to divide the remaining weeks of leave between themselves in whichever way they wish. One feels that this could well be fertile ground for lengthy ‘negotiations’ within the home.
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However, before men begin to cartwheel around the office at the thought of quite a number of weeks off work and women start rejoicing at the fact they can return to work and interact with real people instead of being in solitary confinement with a hungry fire alarm, a lot of this choice will come down to the flexibility of the employer. Whilst employers will not be able to deny the amount of leave requested within the framework, they will be able to refuse such time to be taken in blocks.
Whatever the outcome of the division of the maximum leave, men will now be entitled to a further 24 weeks paternity leave under the new system, making a total of 26 weeks paid leave; but only if the mother/co-adopter opts to return to work.
Suits You Sir
One issue is that cultural norms and perceptions take a while longer to change than pieces of legislation thrashed out in the Commons. Critics maintain that men could be entitled to as much paternity leave as they could shake a baby’s rattle at, but would not take it for fear of reprisals in the workplace, including missing out on promotions for appearing less committed, being stigmatised for taking on a traditionally woman’s role and most importantly, losing out financially.
Whilst men may be cagey about taking time off, a great deal of women nowadays will be keen to return to work and carry on down their chosen career paths. Such flexibility in the law will no doubt be music to their ears.